Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) and Menstruation:What You Need to know

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) and Menstruation:What You Need to know
Last Updated: 20 January 2020

Regardless of how prepared we are, experiencing your periods for the first time can be a bit scary. Well, although it might not be entirely frightening, it’s also a mix of excitement. There’s a lot we have to learn before we can comfortably start using pads, tampons, or menstrual cups. Among things that are crucial to learning is the issue of Toxic Shock Syndrome. You’ll be surprised to learn that not many girls or women are aware of the problem, that’s thanks to manufacturers who provide quality pads.

First of all, it’s important to note that the condition isn’t just a female problem; men also do suffer from it. However, our focus is on the condition and how it relates to the use of sanitary towels. The elephant in the room is can you get TSS from pads? What is the relationship between TSS and tampons? Here’s what you should know about the disease and the use of pads and tampons.

Toxic Shock Syndrome: Definition

Pads and tampons

Toxic shock syndrome, also known as TSS syndrome, is a rare condition that occurs as a result of poisoning and can lead to death. The poisoning is as a result of toxins produced by certain types of bacteria. To gain an understanding of what is toxic shock syndrome is, remove your mind from the issue of pads. That’s because it’s not a gender-specific disease and affects all persons regardless of age. In fact, the first cases of the disease recorded were among a group of young children. That was in the late 70s, and it wasn’t until early 80s that it was found in women and attributed to the use of sanitary towels. It causes multiple organ failure.

What Causes TSS?

Woman with TSS syndrome

When the first case of the disease was reported, it was established that it occurred as a result of bacterial poisoning. It’s worth noting that these bacteria already reside on the human skin, including mucous membranes and will only turn villains when certain conditions prevail. In the majority of the cases reported, Staphylococcus aureus has been culprit. Bacteria that are widely known to cause this disease include:

  • Streptococcus pyogenes,
  • Clostridium sordelli,
  • Staphylococcus aureus.

Now that you have an understanding of what is TSS, then you know why it’s just not from the use of sanitary towels that we can contract it. Cases of the disease have also been reported resulting from the following circumstances:

  • Having wounds or burns on your skin (Open wounds).
  • Gynecological procedures such as childbirth.
  • Nasal packing.
  • Surgery.

All of the above increase risk of TSS syndrome. Menstruating women will contract it when they use superabsorbent sanitary towels, though manufacturers have improved the quality of sanitary towels available on the market today. However, issue of “can pads cause TSS?” will still be addressed.

Toxic Shock Syndrome Symptoms

Woman with Toxic shock syndrome

There are several toxic shock syndrome symptoms that one can look out for. Note that the first symptoms appear abruptly, and they include:

  • High fever.
  • Headaches.
  • Fainting.
  • Dizziness.
  • Hypotension (Low B.P).
  • Diarrhea.
  • Muscle pains.
  • Rashes (red dots) that appear like sunburn on the skin and in any region of the body including soles of the feet or palms of the hand. (They look like peelings on the hands and feet.)

Other symptoms that are accompanied by vital organ failure include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Bloodshot eyes.
  • General body weakness.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Delirium.
  • Being thirsty.
  • Peeing frequently.
Note: The TSS symptoms can vary based on the bacterial strain.

What is the Prevalence of TSS Syndrome?


As previously mentioned, the disease was first recorded among children in 1978. Since then, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recorded approximately 5,296 cases up until 1996 in the US alone. In the early years like in 1980, of the 890 cases reported 812 were menstrual-related – that’s 91% of the incidents recorded. Luckily, that figure has reduced significantly. In 1988, that figure stood at 55%. Today, only 1 or 2 women out of 100,000 who wear tampons will suffer from this ailment – that’s some good news which gives us a glimmer of hope!

Note: Mortality, like the symptoms, varies based on the strain of bacteria. Staphylococcus bacterium accounts for 5 to 15% of deaths, while Streptococcus accounts for 30-70%.

How Do You Test for Toxic Shock Syndrome?

How can you confirm that you’re indeed suffering from TSS disease? Having your menses, then you start experiencing a headache or nausea isn’t a reason to start freaking out. Although, symptoms will guide you know that something is not right. Only a blood or urine test by the doctor will confirm or allay your fears.

Can You Get TSS from Pads?

Once upon a time, the majority of sanitary towels were responsible for causing TSS, specifically in the early 80s – that’s when the market was flooded with superabsorbent sanitary towels. Today, only tampons have been linked to TSS symptoms. Therefore, can you get toxic shock syndrome from pads? It’s a no, but it exposes you to other risks such as UTI’s when you don’t change them as required.

What Can You Do to Minimize the Risk of Having TSS Disease?

It goes without saying that caution needs to be exercised when picking out sanitary towels or tampons. Not just with the aim of reducing the risk of TSS but also other infections. Suggestions to help minimize risk include:

  • Do you use vaginal contraceptives? Then, follow instructions to the latter.
  • Avoid using superabsorbent sanitary towels, especially when you don’t have a heavy flow.
  • Change tampons regularly, avoid overstaying with them.
  • Use pads especially when your flow is heavy.
  • Don’t wear pads when you don’t have periods.
  • Keep wounds, burns or other surgical incisions clean.
  • Toxic shock and tampons are like water and oil, therefore if you’ve ever suffered from it stick to pads because it’s likely to recur.

Toxic Shock Syndrome FAQs

Questions such as “can you get a toxic shock from a pad?” or “how to avoid TSS from tampons?” must be giving you some restlessness. Understandably, you’re concerned for your wellbeing. These facts about Toxic Shock Syndrome that you need to be aware of will be an excellent pointer for you:

How Long Does It Take for TSS Symptoms to Start Showing?

Toxic Shock Syndrome

Once you’re infected, it will take approximately 2 days for the symptoms to present themselves. However, it’s not standard as the different strains will affect you in a manner specific to them. What’s common is that it will start with some redness, while other symptoms can take up to 2 weeks to present themselves.

How Long Can You Wear a Pad?

It’s advisable to change your sanitary towel every 3 to 4 hours. Any longer and you’ll be exposing yourself to other risks which could also be as fatal. The question of how long can you wear one depends on the flow. With heavy flow, it will be filled faster. Unless it’s an overnight sanitary towel, keep the duration short. Also, don’t wear one if you don’t have your menses.

How Long Should You Keep a Tampon in?

You can wear them anywhere between 4 and 8 hours. Any longer and you’re exposing yourself to the risk of toxic shock disease and other infections. Well, are tampons bad for you? Not really as long as you know how to avoid suffering from toxic shock from tampon use and other vaginal infections. The question of how often should you change your tampon also depends on flow but under no circumstance should it exceed stated hours. Also, find the one’s ideal for different situations, e.g., the best tampons for swimming, sports, office, and so on. They also need to be the correct size.

How Long Will It Take for You to Get Toxic Shock from a Tampon?

Although signs of toxic shock syndrome tampons take 2 days to start presenting themselves, should you wear it for more than 8 hours, you are at risk. Menstruating women take 3 to 5 days for them to get sick.

What Happens When You Don’t Change Your Pad?


Well, can u get TSS from pads? As we’ve established, it’s no. However, staying with one longer than 4 hours exposes you to the risk of Urinary tract infections (UTIs) and other vaginal infections which could be deadly if left untreated.

So, Which Ones Are Healthier Pads or Tampons?

The debate of tampons vs pads has been raging on for decades with no clear end in sight. That’s because they each have their positives and negatives. Although risks of using tampons are higher, especially with regards to disease, answers to ‘are tampons better than pads?’ isn’t as black and white. Can you get TSS from pads? No, but that doesn’t make it superior to tampons. The healthiest choice considering condition would be padded. However, not all tampons are bad except for the superabsorbent types. Choose one that best fits your lifestyle, well, it’s a decision we make at an individual level.

Can Toxic Shock Syndrome Go Away on Its Own?

Pads or Tampons?

No, you have to seek medical attention even when you’re just suspecting that you have an infection. Even after a previous infection, one cannot develop immunity to it and as such will still require treatment. TSS requires medical intervention for one to be well, otherwise, the infection will keep getting worse.

Is Toxic Shock Syndrome Fatal?

Yes! When discovered early getting treatment helps prevent fatalities. However, note that the mortality rate varies with bacteria strain. Staphylococcus bacterium accounts for 5 to 15% of deaths, while Streptococcus accounts for 30-70%.

Can TSS Disease be Cured?

 TSS Can be cured

Yes, when we seek immediate medical attention. You will receive antibiotics if it’s still manageable, and sometimes you may require intensive care treatment. Supportive treatment may be required including Immune globulin intravenous or fluid replacement.

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